Snowdrops and sunburn

FROST still clutches at the verges, yet the sun’s streaming primrose yellow over Morden. Even though we’re all trussed up in fur and thermals, it could still be summer: evergreen fir trees, blue sky, all reflected in our sunglasses. And blessed, endless sunlight.

We’re enchanted to spot our first snowdrops of the year, glimmering next to a tree trunk.

Crossing a field, we reach the immaculate village of East Morden, where cottages boast weather vanes in the shape of witches and cats, cricketers and a motorbike.
St Mary’s Church is left open.

We wander into the bell tower, dodging ropes and poring over an old brass plaque. We’re impressed by a tomb dated 1597 which shows an armour-clad Thomas Erle of nearby Charborough House kneeling in prayer.

We head out of the village.

We hop across a narrow plank bridge. A family of finches hide and squeak in a bush. We trace the paths of sunken lanes winding their ways round staggered copses, and skirt an old deer park. Stiles are stamped with Hardy Way logos. We see the distant battlements of Charborough Tower, as tree trunks shimmy feather boas of ivy.

The forest makes me think of fairytales. Do you think leaves got their name because they leave the trees? We’re isolated. It occurs to us – this could be the perfect place to dump a dead body.

We emerge over a stile into a green, green field and sit down to a lunch in a flask – our favourite home-made Mark Hix soup recipe, and hunks of brown bread. Cue rustlings and thumps, as if a stalker is thrashing round in the bushes. A man appears and asks: are we geo-cachers? No, we say, what’s that then? Geo-caching, it turns out, is the 21st century version of treasure hunting, with GPS gadgetry used to locate secret stashes of booty anywhere in the countryside or urban jungle. Our chap, an avid-geocacher, has found 4,000 caches in eight years, and shows us his find, hidden in a tree stump close to the stile.

It’s a film canister with a logsheet in it, signed by all who have gone before. Some caches hide surprise gifts – if you take one away, you’re supposed to leave something in its place. Caches are all around us – he’s already found four today, using map co-ordinates downloaded from the official geo-caching website. We can’t wait to go home and find how many caches are hidden near our flat!

Packing up our picnic things, we pass by the world’s smallest pony, dwarfed by a horse rug.

As we pootle down a bridleway, two horses whinny and gallop and kick up their heels in the neighbouring field. A rider hacks past, but there’s hardly anyone else about.

The sun is lowering in the sky, so we turn homewards. Later, as we slump on the sofa, our faces feel chafed, raw – scorched? Yes, it’s a touch of January sunburn! Hoorah! Spring doesn’t feel so very far away.

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